Congress: Close the gap between funding for nutrition research and the toll diet-related disease takes on Americans (Stat)

STAT | You are what you eat. Every year, new scientific discoveries make clear that food is critical to health. In recent years, nutrition research trials have shown that a Mediterranean diet reduces cardiovascular disease; ultra-processed foods increase weight gain; omega-3 fatty acids improve IQ in preterm babies; cocoa prevents heart attacks; and vitamin D supplements do — well, almost nothing.

But many questions remain: What’s the best diet for weight loss? Do supplements really work? Can certain foods or better nutrition help cancer treatment, maintain brain health, treat autism, or improve immunity? What’s the best way to nurture the gut microbiome?

It will take years before answers to these and many other questions emerge — time the U.S. does not have as obesity and diet-related diseases rise at alarming rates. What’s needed right now is a national nutrition science moonshot.

Diet-related conditions are the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. Not only is poor nutrition deadly, it’s expensive: The combined health care spending and lost productivity from suboptimal eating costs the economy $1.1 trillion each year. Obesity alone has far-reaching consequences for the education system, American workplace, and national defense, with 1 in 3 young adults disqualified to serve in the military because of excess weight. Americans who live in rural areas, have lower incomes, or are part of certain racial or ethnic groups often face higher rates of diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, stroke, and heart disease. The combined toll of poor nutrition is astronomical.

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It’s Time To Prioritize Nutrition: Better Diet Quality Leads To Better Health And Wellbeing For Americans (Forbes)

FORBES | September should be a big month for nutrition. For too long, we have struggled and failed to curb food and nutrition insecurity, to mitigate rising rates of obesity, and to reduce the prevalence of diet-related chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease.

This issue is very real to many of us, but it is especially real to me.

For nearly 12 years as a cardiac surgeon, I operated five days a week on people’s hearts, palpating and coming face to face with fatty, calcified, and hardened coronary artery disease caused in large part by bad nutrition. I saw firsthand how, despite growing up hearing that “you are what you eat,” many of us fail to consume nutritious foods fundamental to promoting health and wellness. We know better.

Our nutrition – or lack thereof—has thwarted our nation’s health and wellbeing. And it’s costing many Americans their lives and their savings. It is time we act on what science, clinical medicine, and public health experts have long understood: our country must prioritize better nutrition policy.

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The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health is an opportunity for transformational change (Nature Food)

NATURE FOOD | More than 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon convened the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, bringing together all the agencies of the US government, Congress and other stakeholders to address widespread hunger in the United States. That conference — chaired and organized by Dr Jean Mayer, the founder of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy — was historic in its vision, bipartisanship and impact. The insights and recommendations of the 1969 conference established nearly all of the major US food and nutrition programmes that are in place today. This included major expansion and harmonization of the National School Lunch Program; major expansion and harmonization of the Food Stamp programme (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)); creation of the School Breakfast Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); and development of a new focus on food-based dietary guidelines and new consumer protections such as nutrition facts labelling2. Together, these policies achieved success in their major goal: to reduce caloric hunger nationally.

However, much has changed since 1969, and the United States and global community face stark new food and nutrition challenges. Chief among these are the intertwined pandemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as globally rising cardiovascular diseases, cancers and other diet-related diseases. In the United States, half of all adults have diabetes or prediabetes, while 3 in 4 are overweight or have obesity. In addition, undernutrition has still not been eradicated globally — a dire double burden of malnutrition. In 2020, about 3.9% of US households experienced very low food security, and an additional 6.6% experienced low food security.

In our nation and around the world, nutrition insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases also disproportionately afflict racial and ethnic minorities and lower income, rural and other underserved populations. At the same time, the industrialization of food, from the Green Revolution to food science, successfully mitigated the leading nutritional concerns of the twentieth century: mass starvation due to a soaring world population, endemic vitamin deficiency diseases, and common foodborne pathogens; however, it is not well designed for the needs of the twenty-first century: a fully healthy, just and sustainable food system. Together, these burdens on human health and natural resources are also producing tremendous economic losses in the United States and worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia–Ukraine war have further underscored fundamental weaknesses across our food systems, including fragile supply chains, persistent food and nutrition insecurity, and increasing inequities. COVID-19 also intersects directly with obesity, diabetes and hypertension, which are the top risk factors, beyond age, for poor outcomes from infection.

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Commissioner Califf needs to put the F back in FDA (Stat)

STAT | Robert Califf is taking the reins as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration with the nation in a nutrition crisis. Americans are living shorter, less-healthy lives due to the foods they are being sold. The new commissioner can meet this challenge by harnessing the FDA’s effective but underused food-related regulatory powers, which were created with FDA itself for a similar food crisis more than 100 years ago.

At the turn of the 20th century, food was making Americans sick. Illnesses due to chemical and microbiological contaminants were among the top 10 causes of death. Food producers, eager to meet consumer demand for cheap, quick, appealing, and tasty food, were adding harmful ingredients without concern for people’s safety and were intentionally mislabeling food. Milk contained chalk and formaldehyde; canned foods had salicylic acid, borax, and copper sulfate; corn syrup was sold as honey; and colored animal fat from pig stomachs sold as butter. Food manufacturers were unchecked by government regulation, basic food safety, or labelling requirements.

Under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey Wiley, a chemist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal government was able to make the country’s food supply safer through research and policy. Wiley conducted groundbreaking research on food additives by testing them on a group of men that came to be known as “the poison guard.” This research culminated in sweeping food safety laws — and the founding of the FDA — through the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

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Rethinking How And What We Eat With Dr. Mark Hyman (Forbes)

FORBES | If Dean Ornish is the father of lifestyle medicine, Dr. Mark Hyman is the food as medicine master. With his New York TimesNYT+1% best-selling books, a top-rated podcast, “The Doctor’s Farmacy,” and visionary leadership of the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, Hyman is changing the conversation about the nation’s relationship with food to improve health—not just for brains and bodies, but for the planet.

I sat down with Hyman recently for my podcast, A Second Opinion, to talk about his latest book, “The Pegan Diet, 21 Practical Principles for Reclaiming your Health in a Nutritionally Confusing World.” As a heart surgeon who in the operating room daily witnessed the devastating consequences of diet-related disease, I truly appreciate Hyman’s no-nonsense and easily digestible guide to using food as a therapeutic tool for better health. And as a former policy maker in the Senate, I love his ability to connect the misaligned incentives of our government to the health of each of us—and what we can do about it.

Hyman’s innovative approach reminds me of the groundbreaking work of Ornish, who argued in our talk in 2020 that lifestyle change—including plant-based diets low in fat and sugar, regular moderate exercise, strength training, stress management and social support—can treat and often reverse life threatening conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

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It’s time for the U.S. to lead on combating global malnutrition (The Hill)

THE HILL | One single public health crisis accounts for nearly half (45%) of all child deaths under age five. Every 4 seconds, a person dies from this cause – approximately 21,000 every day. And shockingly, nearly one in nine people globally is affected.  What is this epidemic that has taken so many lives? That has wreaked havoc on so many families? It’s want of a most basic need: we still have 795 million people worldwide who suffer from various forms of malnutrition and undernourishment.

This is not a complex disease where we need to develop new treatments, build new clinics and health infrastructure, or educate patients on prevention and medication adherence. But it is a health challenge that requires bold leadership and the commitment of greater resources from developing and developed countries. The United States should lead the way, and our next President has a unique opportunity to mobilize the global community around this critical issue.

Read more at The Hill.

A Crucial Moment for Global Nutrition

(The Hill, May 22, 2013)

On June 8, the United Kingdom, under the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron, will host “Nutrition for Growth,” a high-level meeting where donor governments, including our own, will pledge funding and other commitments to address undernutrition and its devastating impact on the long-term health and productivity of millions of people in developing countries.

Sitting side by side with donors and foundations will be representatives of developing country governments, the private sector and civil society organizations, demonstrating the truly complex and multi-stakeholder nature of nutrition.

Malnutrition is one of the world’s most serious, yet least-addressed, development challenges. It contributes to almost 2.5 million young child deaths annually. Malnutrition is a serious drain on economic productivity, costing countries as much as 11 percent of GDP.

Close to 200 million children throughout the world are chronically malnourished and suffer from serious, often irreversible cognitive damage. Physically, undernourished children are stunted—smaller in stature than their well-nourished peers, more susceptible to illness throughout life, including noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and obesity.

The case for greater leadership and investments in global nutrition is clear. The Copenhagen Consensus, an expert panel of economists that includes several Nobel laureates, concluded that fighting malnutrition in young children should be the top priority investment for policymakers. In the group’s report, they stated that every $1 invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity. Similar studies have found that undernutrition causes between $20 billion and $30 billion in additional health costs every year to treat the long-term consequences of early childhood malnutrition.

While the problem is complex, the solutions don’t need to be. Cost-effective, evidence-based solutions exist. What we need are the resources and the political commitment to scale up proven nutrition solutions.  Political commitment in the form of presidential leadership and bipartisan congressional support works. We have seen it in the Global Fund, the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

We can do it again — this time to scale up and align nutrition investments. To follow the proven PEPFAR model, we should target resources to benefit the most vulnerable; align resources across all agencies and programs; focus on countries where we have committed partners and country-led strategies; and coordinate efforts internationally.

UNICEF reports that 1 in 4 children under the age of five is stunted and 80 percent of those children live in just 14 countries. The Lancet’s series on maternal and child health and nutrition highlights the 1,000 days from the beginning of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday as the critical window of opportunity for human health and development.

Like PEPFAR, we can target our interventions to benefit those most vulnerable to undernutrition, namely pregnant women and young children. We have commitments from more than 30 countries, which as part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement — a partnership of donors, developing countries, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector — have identified undernutrition as a severe impediment to economic development. A number of those countries have developed national nutrition plans that offer donors an opportunity to build upon and strengthen the country-led aspect of the investments.

We can begin by working with those committed country partners through bilateral and multilateral channels and offer our government’s technical expertise and best practices to galvanize a concrete investment strategy that includes innovative public and private partnerships and financing mechanisms.

There is an emerging international coordination effort for nutrition: the Nutrition for Growth event in London, last year’s G8 commitment to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the UK-led Hunger Summit of 2012 and the growing Scaling Up Nutrition movement. These efforts will help the United States to share with other donors the cost of alleviating this global problem.

This is a critical moment for the U.S. to lead on global nutrition. The June 8 summit in London is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to announce a bold global nutrition strategy that outlines a multifaceted and multi-year approach to better coordinate and integrate nutrition resources across sectors and agencies, with clearly defined goals and targets, and with the dedicated resources necessary to achieve the strategy’s stated goals. Bipartisan leaders in Congress must step forward and commit to working with the president to make global nutrition a top priority of U.S. development assistance.

The moment for turning the corner on global nutrition is here, and it is time for our elected leaders to demonstrate anew how American leadership is the driving force for building a healthier, safer and more prosperous world.

William H. Frist, M.D. is a nationally acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate majority leader, the chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, professor of surgery and author of six books. Learn more about his work at

This article was originally featured in The Hill

3 ways to fix America’s child poverty problem

(The Week, February 28, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

One in five American children suffers through extreme financial hardship. It doesn’t have to be that way

Americans hear a lot about decline. Declines in manufacturing, fading productivity, plummeting home values, spiralling deficits, and sadly, dwindling faith in the American dream.

Let me tell you where I see the worst decline — but also our nation’s best hope.

One in five kids in America lives in poverty. That’s 20 percent of America’s future left behind. Left to drop out of high school, suffer through shorter lives, commit crimes, have a child in their teens — and then perpetuate this cycle with their own children.

With better education, kids live longer, earn more, wait longer to have a child, and are less likely to commit a crime.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Imagine an America with 20 percent fewer high school dropouts, 20 percent fewer teen pregnancies, and a 20 percent reduction in chronic health problems like diabetes and hypertension. Picture an America with a workforce that is 20 percent more productive and packed with 20 percent more qualified job applicants. Dream of an America with 20 percent more middle-class citizens. We would be a country poised to soar.

So how do we get there?

The fastest route out of poverty lies with education. With better education, kids live longer, earn more, wait longer to have a child, and are less likely to commit a crime. More importantly, these benefits pass on to their children, snapping the cruel cycle of poverty.

Poverty, especially during formative early years, can be an enormous hurdle for a child’s development. At U.S. schools where less than 10 percent of the student body is impoverished, reading scores rank first in the world. Yet these same scores for U.S. schools where 75 percent or more of the student body is impoverished rank 45th.

In a country with a failing K-12 school system, is it really possible to improve education for impoverished children? Yes, and here are three ways: Providing a boost for kids, lending a hand to parents, and pulling together crumbling neighborhoods.

First, we must start young, much younger than you might think. Most poor children are already behind on their first day of school. At age 4, poor children are 18 months behind developmentally, and without access to early education, kids are 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school.

Communities must target vigorous pre-K education and daycare programs for the one in five kids whose parents simply can’t afford them. Soft skills such as sharing, negotiation, reason, and concentration are instilled between finger-painting and building with blocks. The critical ingredient of high expectations is introduced. These are not luxury goods. They are essential in making communities more prosperous. When states think about job training, they should begin with pre-K education.


This article was originally featured in The Week